The Many Faces of Isaac and Ismael

Video box with Peter Greenaway and Saskia Boddeke

Peter Greenaway and Saskia Boddeke at the video box in the Eric F. Ross Gallery © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Yves Sucksdorff

For the last several weeks, there’s been an interactive video box in the Eric F. Ross Gallery, as part of the current special exhibition, “Obedience: An Installation in 15 Rooms by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway.” “Are you Isaac or are you Ismael?” a neon sign asks visitors as soon as they approach the box. The question relates to the story from Chapter 22 of the First Book of Moses, in which God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son. Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway turn this story on its head. It’s not the voice of God greeting the visitors at the beginning of their exhibit, but a large-screen projection of children and young people presenting themselves, in their own languages, as Isaac or Ismael.  continue reading


“When civilization goes wrong, there is blood:” A brief exchange with Peter Greenaway

The exhibition “Obedience: An Art Installation in 15 Rooms by Saskia Boddeke & Peter Greenaway” is about to open. It reflects on the biblical story of Abraham, a forefather willing to sacrifice his son in compliance at God’s command.The installation is still being set up when the catalog arrives, hot off the press. It comprises an art book designed by Peter Greenaway as well as a compilation of essays. The artist and filmmaker took a break from the hectic pre-opening preparations to talk with Mirjam Wenzel about the meaning of the biblical story, and the notion of text, image and blood.

Mirjam Wenzel: The biblical story in the Book of Genesis 22 holds an awkward place in Jewish memory and has given rise over the centuries to many theological debates and artistic interpretations. We had been considering doing an exhibition about this story and its reception for a very long time. What did you think when we approached you with the idea of creating this exhibition? How do you perceive this biblical story?  

Peter Greenaway: I think that when making an exhibition it is as important to attend to form and language as to content. The content is always maneuverable, adjustable, and ever subjective. This story consists of very many meanings,  continue reading


The Colors of Light

Deborah Philips holding a box with her artwork

When delivering her art works to the Jewish Museum Berlin, Deborah S. Phillips naturally wears blue nail polish © Jewish Museum Berlin. Photo: Gelia Eisert

A visit to Berlin-Neukölln, to the studio apartment of Deborah S. Phillips, who is dressed in blue, today, except for her shoes, which are green. That the artist has spent the last five years examining the color blue and is only now gradually turning her attention to hues of green is reflected thus in her apparel as well as her art.

Red was the first color to which Deborah Phillips devoted herself with a passion. The Bible story she read aloud as a 12-year-old in the synagogue on the occasion of her Bat Mizwa was about the red cow—and it haunted her for ages. It was the tale of a strange animal that had to be sacrificed so people could use its ashes to cleanse themselves of sin. Only then would they be able to enter the temple in Jerusalem. Many years later, Deborah Phillip’s reflections on the color red and its cultural significance culminated in one of her enchanting works on paper, the “Red Book,” which is the fruit also of the artist’s extensive voyages in Iran, India and Central Asia, and her affinity with Islamic cultures.  continue reading